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12 in Your Town: Berston Field House has a long history of bringing Flint together

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Berston Field House

Berston Field House has been a fixture on the city's north end for nearly 100 years.

Berston Field House has hosted hundreds of events that unite the Flint community during its long history.

FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Berston Field House has been the gathering place in North Flint for decades for communities both in and outside the city.

The facility, which dates back to 1923, has a rich history of being a beacon of hope for so many. It was named in honor of Neil J. Berston, who was a developer who settled in Flint from South Dakota in the late 1800s.

"It's an historical building that has a tremendous amount of history, especially related to the history of Flint," said Executive Director Bryant Nolden "Many athletes, many entertainers, many just all walks of life -- people have actually used this facility over the years."

Nolden grew up right down the street from Berston and has many childhood memories.

"This is the place where I learned to swim," she said. "Berston, when it was first built, it had a swimming pool. It was about 25 to 30 years ago when the swimming pool was taken out. And I was 5 years old when I actually learned to swim here at Berston."

Less than 10 years after it opened, Berston Field House was ahead of its time.

"What's so unique about Berston is in the early 1930s it was the first recreational facility in Genesee County that was integrated -- and that was really unheard of in the 1930s," Nolden said.

It has served as a gathering place ever since. The pulse of Berston is part of the heartbeat of Flint.

"Berston goes as Flint goes," Nolden said. "Berston has always been that place, that sense of community where people could actually meet and be able to come together and really come up with ideas, to play basketball, to play football, to box -- just to have community meetings. It's always been that, what Flint's all about -- a sense of community."

It's probably best known for the long list of successful athletes that trained within its walls, recognized in a mural you see when you first walk in.

"We have Mateen Cleaves, who's on the wall right behind us. We have Morris Peterson. You have Justice Thigpin, who was one of the very first professional basketball players that was drafted and actually served as a director here," Nolden said.

Champion boxer Claressa Shields got her start at Berston, too.

But there's so much more to Berston than that. It's home to a dance studio, senior exercise classes, fine arts programs, a bicycle club, senior line dancing and a summer softball league that brings in people from all across Genesee County.

Farrod Clark is very thankful for Berston Field House.

"Anybody you see around here, whether they're in here, walking around all connected to here," he said.

It's not just a place for friendly pick-up game of basketball. It's a place to learn and grow from others.

Nolden has been behind a major push to make everyone a "Friend of Berston."

"That's one of the reasons why I'm pushing and doing everything we can to make sure that this building is here for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years," he said.

There's a capital campaign to raise more money to renovate and rehab Berston Field House by 2023, when the facility turns 100 years old.